Douglas won’t support House health care plan

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says he won’t support a health care reform plan being drafted in the House because it’s too expensive and requires a tax increase.

House Democratic leaders point out that the governor’s own plan increases costs to the state’s business community by more than 40 million dollars and they argue these new expenses should be viewed as a tax increase.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Is there a difference between a tax increase and a government mandate that will raise costs to Vermont businesses?

This question is at the heart of the debate over the funding of health care reform at the Statehouse.

A proposal being drafted by House Democratic leaders provides subsidies to help uninsured Vermonters buy a comprehensive insurance policy based on their ability to pay.

The plan is expected to cost between $15 and $20 million a year in state funds once it’s fully implemented.

Backers of the bill want to pay for it by increasing the state cigarette tax and using part of the second installment of federal tobacco settlement money.

The governor is also backing a subsidy plan. It doesn’t require a tax increase because the benefit coverage is less comprehensive.

Douglas says he can’t support the House approach.

(Douglas) “There’s no need for a tax increase. I presented a balanced budget that does not require one and a health care reform measure that provides access to affordable health care for everyone, a basic insurance policy that will serve the needs of our people without any tax increase.”

(Kinzel) John Tracy is the chairman of the House Health Care committee.

Tracy says the governor’s plan includes a new mandate for businesses that will increase their expenses by more than $40 million a year. He sees little difference between a cigarette tax increase and this new government mandate.

(Tracy) “He shifts $40 to $45 million to employers to pay for his plan. So if you don’t want to call it a tax, fine. You’ve got to pay $40 to $45 million to employers who are currently providing insurance to people. They’re already doing the right thing. He says yeah well 40 to 45 million more and thank you very much.’ I don’t think that’s good for businesses. I don’t think that’s good for jobs and I don’t think that’s good for people.”

(Kinzel) Democratic leaders are hoping to have the health care reform bill on the floor for debate by the middle of next week.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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